IGAD-Led Peace Talks On South Sudan Stalled Again: Why and What Next?

19 March 2018

Before the start of the IGAD-led HLRF to revive the failed 2015 peace agreement, four outcome scenarios were envisioned and the potential of each outcome to deliver sustainable peace and development in South Sudan. At the core is whether the Government is willing to create a level playing field by agreeing to new security and governance arrangements that would create the environment and trust essential to make peace.

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Announcing the failure of the talks, IGAD Special Envoy for South Sudan, Ambassador Ismail Wais and Mr Michael Makuei South Sudan’s tough-talking Minister of Information sounded like the only optimistic parties to the HLRF.

It was apparent, the opposition alliance and IGAD have divergent views on the way forward. Civil society representatives were quick to warn of the significant gaps between the opposition and the government.

Soon after, President Kiir’s colleagues in the transitional government, the SPLM-FDs blame the failure of the negotiations on the government.

Accusing it of creating obstacles to impede the peace process. Mr Michael Makuei branded the proposals put forward by the opposition as “impossible”. Minister Makuei went on to demand the resignation of a member of his UNITY government, the foreign minister Mr Deng Alor who represents the SPLM-FDs.

Just days after the collapse, IGAD and the international community were again calling on the parties to show restraint and stop undermining the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) agreement.

Instead of freeing political prisoners, the SPLM-IO appointed governor for Kapoeta State Mr Marko Lokidor who was abducted by national security operatives from Kenya, was murdered in custody in Juba. Mr James Gatdet Dak and John William Endley sentenced to die in what many see as a blatant violation of the calls to show restraint and the agreement to release all political prisoners. General James Hoth Mai, the man, heading the security committee of the government initiated National Dialogue, disapproves of the timing of the sentencing.

It undermines he said, the spirit of peace and dialogue. However, o a side note, Paul Malong’s departure is much more detrimental to President Kiir’s National dialogue, at the very least it complicates the expected objective and outcome.

As if two weeks of peace revitalisation talks never happened, Ambassador Wais was again urging the UN Security Council to consider urgent punitive measures for violators of the peace agreement.

Acknowledging the continued violations and fighting even during the 10-day forum between the 5th and 16th February 2018 Ambassador Wais urged the AU and the UN Security Council to implement the AU resolution to hold the spoilers of peace to account.  Juba’s response “leaves no room for interpretation. “The threats to slap sanctions will never change the government’s position, but could instead fuel the ongoing civil war,” the government spokesperson says.

To the general public, the AU and UN threats ring hollow. They see that senior officials targeted by the EU, U.S. and Canadian sanctions are still part of the government’s negotiating team. Undeterred, the government stopped stakeholders in the High-Level Revitalization Forum peace talks to travel to meetings. The US state department says the restrictions calls into question the Government of South Sudan’s commitment to seek an inclusive solution to the conflict.

The opposition alliance had come to Addis Ababa on the assumption of equal footing – each coming with different but equally valued contributions to the negotiations. The group was able to maintain unity around the headline themes of federalism; a ceremonial presidency; a lean council of ministers and national legislative assembly; the cantonment of all fighters and the implementation of security reforms.

The wide gaps in the proposals rouse a broad sense of frustration, especially among the South Sudanese. Many questioning why it is that the opposition has to negotiate with a regime that should not be there in the first place. A government whose militia is  “deliberately targeting civilians by their ethnic identity” and committing crimes include “killings, abductions, rape, and sexual violence, as well as looting and the destruction of villages,” actions that “constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity”. The UN identified forty senior officials who may face prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is probably because IGAD’s broad-based consultative meetings ahead of the High-Level Revitalization Forum drew up a comprehensive document that included views of the opposition group. While IGAD acknowledged the value of the proposals provided by the opposition during its consultative phase, it also said that the opposition proposals would be considered at some stage whether before, during or after the Revitalization Forum.

The proposals in the pre-consultative document should have formed the basis of the revitalisation. Instead, IGAD took up the TGoNU and SPLM/IO proposals for ‘power-sharing’. Having refused to sign the Declaration of Principles’, IGAD and the TGoNU presented as “agreed provisions” a power-sharing plan on 15 February 2018, the penultimate day of the negotiations.


Observers were quick to point out how the same arrangement failed in 2015. The provisions would allow President Kiir to choose four deputy presidents from the members of the opposition with no change on the status quo and the conditions for its success put in place.

The opposition delegations were dismayed that the IGAD provisions did not reflect the proposals of the opposition Alliance. Instead, IGAD mediators rewarded President Kiir’s record of horrific human rights violations, failed governance and embezzlement of billions of public resources with an even stronger grip on power.

The arrangement could have dire and profound long-term implications for peace. A critical fact recognised by the UK, US and Norway. In a statement, the TROIKA emphasised that any arrangements must not advantage any political, armed, or ethnic group urging the parties to address security and governance issues. (Troika Statement).

A former senior advisor to IGAD’s chief mediator described the IGADs power-sharing proposal as “inadequate” (USIP).  It would be naïve to expect a Kiir led transition government based on the proposed power-sharing formulas to implement the essential clauses of the ARCSS agreement, including cantonment of tribal militias, establishing the hybrid court and efforts to hold spoilers accountable without putting in place the necessary conditions for its success.

The opposition sees a mounting lack of trust in an IGAD led process. Pointing out that the document on governance that IGAD unveiled as “agreed provisions” was not agreed by any of the opposition parties and civil society. Because the gaps in the proposals were too significant to be bridged, the opposition saw it as attempts to maintain the status quo. The provisions did not reflect the changing and dramatic collapse of the economic, social and human rights conditions in the country.

The members of the self-acclaimed leaders or SPLM-FDs and many in the opposition alliance believe the people will hold them accountable if all they do is join a bloated government under a Kiir presidency. IGAD they say does not appreciate the concerns of the “un-armed” opposition alliance and civil society representatives whose only guarantee to join or support a transitional government depends on the TRUST in how the agreement ensures balanced powers; safeguards the independence of the judiciary and guarantees that Chapter 2 security reforms are firmly in place. Many doubt whether the government grasps the need and significance to address the ’causes’ of the conflict and given President Kiir’s decade-long record, whether it is committed to the responsibilities to deliver development outcomes for the people.

In Chapter 2, the government proposes to integrate the opposition forces into the current tribal militia, a group formed to protect President Salva Kiir and former army chief Paul Malong Awan. It is a proven recipe for heightened confrontations. It increases the risk of conflict the opposition says. Insisting on a comprehensive overhaul or the tribal armies and establishment of new security sector arrangements that is reflective of the country’s diversity. But this may not be necessary, as Paul Malong may need his militia sooner than later.

The opposition believes IGADs provisions of Chapter 1 and 2 was the work of some neighbouring countries.  It is a tangible reminder of the realistic warning by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr António Guterres when he talked about the contradictions and conflicts of interests in the neighbourhood of South Sudan. It is essential Mr Guterres said that such interest is not translated to influence the internal situation of South Sudan including through its structures of governance (emphasis mine).

In a press release, the opposition groups, except for the SPLM families (the former detainees (SPLM-FD) and SPLM in opposition (SPLM-IO) issued a statement reaffirming the groups’ commitment to revitalise ARCSS while categorically rejecting to perpetuate the status quo. The group accused the government of refusing to sign the Declaration of Principle, a critical roadmap meant to oversee the revitalisation of the ARCSS. The government was not willing to engage seriously in addressing the ” causes” behind the country’s social, economic; security problems and vitally the leadership failures that have inflicted much suffering on the people.

Instead, the government and the IGAD mediators focused on the power-sharing provisions that many in the opposition see as a ploy to appease government supporters and assimilate the opposition groups with job offers. They believe IGAD’s shuttle diplomacy before reconvening the next round is looking at re-establish the status quo ante, before the mandate of the current government ends in August. The government propose expanding the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) to four hundred forty (440) seats; creating forty-two (42) ministerial positions and four (4) vice presidents, all at the national level. Plus, the country will have between three (3) and ten (10) state legislatures to represent the three greater regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria, or the 10 States depending on the final agreement.

In a statement, the opposition alliance categorically rejected what it called a bloated proposal. In its place, they are advocating a lean, efficient, and functional Government. Especially given the sorry state of South Sudan’s public finances. With this in mind, the opposition recommended a competent TNLA of between 170 – 200 members as a reasonable and financially prudent number to address the provisions of the agreement and to adequately represent the country’s 10 million citizens.

In contrast, Ghana with its population of almost 30 million had till recently 200 parliamentary seats; Kenya with a population of just below 50 million has 290 elected members compared to IGADs proposed 440 seats to represent about 10 million South Sudanese.

The opposition demands reflect the priorities that the Troika has set out to create a conducive environment, achieve the separation of powers and deliver services. It stresses the need to run the affairs of the interim government by consensus; adhering to a strict separation of powers between the executive, the national legislative assembly and Judiciary. The Opposition, the AU and Troika acknowledge a conducive environment for peacemaking necessitates the cantonment of all armies or militias, ensuring the Regional Protection Force (RPF) controls critical strategic sites and positions and to implement security reforms.

Observers close to the talks reckon that the African Union, which is mandated to identify and impose punitive measures on those undermining the process, must now take the lead of the HLRF’s mediation process and to assert the principles calling for punitive measures against spoilers of the peace process.

The AU must also restore credibility to the process by ensuring that those individuals already under international sanctions do not participate in the next rounds of the negotiations. IGAD only cannot do it because of the desire to maintain the status quo to protect regional economic and political interests. The Opposition Groups, as well as the TGoNU, do not trust all of the IGAD countries any longer to be neutral mediators for the South Sudan peace process. Some want the AU under the chairmanship of President Paul Kagame and Mr Moussa Faki to lead the negotiations. Others want it moved away from IGAD.

The opposition ruled out the President and his former Vice President taking part in the transition. A move echoed by a faction within the Presidents’ transitional government and some in the international community. The former US envoy to Sudan Mr Andrew Natsios agrees. Leaders on all sides should be offered a graceful exit and an interim national government comprising leaders not involved in the crisis to be formed to allow for a cooling-off period.  The government spokesman, Mr Michael Makuei, himself under international sanctions has branded the opposition proposals “impossible” demands.

Another reason for civil society representatives and activists to be less hopeful a peace deal can be struck with the current government especially when its agenda is driven by those under sanctions fighting for their survival rather than the future of the country. The impulse to vacate the Presidency may hinge on whether or not the President and his family members and enablers are confident they would avoid legal repercussions when out of power.

However, the opposition alliance is yet to identify or agree on strategic entry points for their interventions to build the type of cooperation that brings together the people and necessary capacities to jointly and consistently address and implement the provisions of an eventual agreement. For now, the scope and reach of the alliance are limited to responding to the pressures of the peace negotiations. The concern is that such a single approach may not prepare it for a robust implementation of an eventual agreement. The alliance could, however, tip the balance in its favour if it can establish itself as an alternative ‘government in waiting’ that can replace the status quo if need be.

The South Sudan opposition alliance is currently a group of parties united in their vision of the nation-state and its relation to citizens. The group could take steps to transform into a single National Coalition and form a shadow national government at the national level but maintain their political base and identities at the state levels where that can exercise the peaceful rivalry for power during the elections and after the transition period.

It will require a radical change, going beyond soundbites of unity to forming a shadow national government and using its collective social capital to build the foundations of the country’s post-conflict peace and development.

For this, the alliance would have to stimulate, intensify and reinforce cooperation on specific technical areas and commit to a transition period that favours no one group or person. The credible option for the opposition alliance is one of being ready to govern and not one where its individuals join a bloated status quo government.

To govern and deliver services requires an interim administration that is equipped with the right capacities to discharge the responsibilities of government to accomplish the critical outcomes of the agreement.

The challenge for those who will lead the implementation of the agreement during the interim and post-election government is not just to observe peace, but also to turn the country’s demographic growth and its youth and women into real economic potential with a positive impact on development across the country.

Assembling and fostering leadership “Capacities” is probably the one element that all the parties to the HLRF need most. Support must focus on the creation of an interim administration based on a representative democracy to operate under the principles of tolerance, an inclusive system that protects the human rights of all citizens by law.

IGADs power-sharing provisions for governance will restore a system described by Jok Madut Jok as one where the Minister and Deputy Minister of Finance, the Undersecretary, Director General of Planning, accountants and cashiers all come from a single community, the President’s community. Clooney and Prendergast have conclusively shown it is a system where South Sudan’s top officials and their families steal an astonishing amount from state coffers.

Does this mean that IGAD and the African Union are hell-bent on furthering corruption in South Sudan? Not at all. But it remains to be seen whether these institutions will act on their threats and implement their mandate to deter the spoilers and to advance the development of the country, the region and the continent.

Constantine Obura Bartel

Download PDF IGAD-Led Peace Talks On South Sudan Stalled Again: Why and What Next?